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January 27, 2021

Govt under fire in Senate over PIA privatisation

Top Story

January 27, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The government came under fire in the Senate Tuesday for its alleged bid to replace PIA with other airlines by providing them space gradually and then privatising the national airline.

The opposition asked tough questions about the fate of the PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan informed the House through a written reply that Roosevelt Hotel was not being sold.

“However, the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation, in its meeting held on Nov 15, 2019 … considered the proposal submitted by the Ministry of Privatisation regarding leasing of the Roosevelt site for setting up a joint venture project. The same is under process in the ministry,” he added.

Speaking in response to the reply by the minister about privatisation of the Hotel, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani alleged that the government wanted to bring the national airline into a position where other airlines could be given a space to operate by replacing it. “Is this a conspiracy against the PIA and the government wanted to make the airline redundant to fulfil its dream of privatising it,” he asserted. Referring to the two recent incidents, Rabbani said the government claimed that order of a court about attaching the Roosevelt Hotel in Reko Diq case was an ex parte order. He wondered that how this could be an ex-parte order when the federal government was in the knowledge when the hotel was being mortgaged for in the case of Reko Diq.

“When the decision had come against the government, how it is an ex parte order. Was the government sleeping or if this is being done in connivance to sell the hotel at the throwaway price,” he wondered. He added that the government also claimed that the seizure of the PIA aircraft by Malaysian authorities was also done on an ex parte order of the court. “Then, why the CEO (chief executive officer) of the PIA has not be called into question that why you made airborne a vulnerable plane,” he added.

Continuing his onslaught, Rabbani said that Roosevelt Hotel came under the Federal Legislative List, Part-II, which was being controlled by the Council of Common Interests (CCI): the matter of its privatisation could only be raised before the CCI. He added that any step of the government without approval of the Council, would be unconstitutional. He made it clear that Cabinet Committee on Privatisation was not authorised to privatise all those entities that come under the Federal Legislative List, Part- II, noting privatisation of the PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) were also affected due to the same reason.

He raised objection over the earlier remarks made by the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) serves as a watchdog on the parliament. “No watchdog can sit over parliament as it is a supreme body,” he said and added that the remarks were incorrect under the Constitution.

Then, he referred to Article 230 (3) of the Constitution and said that parliament could even legislate on a matter that had been referred to the CII but the latter has not responded over it. Winding up the call attention notice, the Minister of State informed the House that the government would complete appointment of chairman CII and its member on all vacant seats by the end of February, as the process was already under way.

The minister also said that President Dr Arif Alvi was the final authority to make these appointments on the advice of the prime minister. He added that the seats had fallen vacant on Nov 7 last year when 12 members of the council retired after completing their three-year tenure. He said that other seats of the council, out of total 20 members, would fall vacant in May this year and these would also be filled as soon as possible. He said that the CII was a watchdog on the “lawmaking of the parliament and the provincial assemblies” to ensure that no law repugnant to the injunctions of Islam was made.

Afterwards, clarifying the objection raised by Rabbani, the minister pointed out that he wanted to say that the CII served as a watchdog on the legislation so that no law that is against the injunctions of Islam could be passed. He, however, referred to Articled 230 and said that the Constitution says that if the CII advises that any law was repugnant to Islamic injunctions, the President, governors, parliament and provincial assemblies “shall reconsider” the law.

Earlier, JI Senator Sirajul Haq, while speaking on his calling attention notice, said that the government had made inactive a constitutional body like the CII because it had not appointed its chairman and the members, who had retired in Nov 2020.

PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed called on the government to take the issue of RSS, a fascist outfit, to the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to get it declared a terrorist organisation.

He was taking part in the discussion on the presidential address to the joint sitting of the Parliament’s two chambers. The legislator added that the RSS was inspired by Hitler and Mussolini. Referring to January 26, the so-called republican day of India, he noted that today a massive demonstration was held in Delhi and Sikhs flag was hoisted at Lal Qila (Red Fort) amid chants of long live Pakistan, long live Khalistan.

Senator Mushahid, while talking about the worst rights abuses of people in Indian Occupied Kashmir and minorities in India, said Modi’s Hindutva was burying the secular face of India. He urged the government to adopt a clear policy on India as well as Kashmir. “There should be a consistent stand on Kashmir issue,” he emphasised.

JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad demanded the government desist from imposition of MTI ordinance on PIMS, as doctors and employees had very serious reservations on it and already it had failed to produce desired results in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s major three hospitals.

Another PML-N Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi wanted the government to put aside developmental projects for the time being and take steps for protection of people’s lives from the coronavirus. He insisted that the House should be given briefing on how and when its vaccine would be available in Pakistan and who was dealing it.

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem rose to say that the government was proactively dealing with the challenge and things were being handled seriously. He added that DRAP had given approval to three vaccines. Senator Shahzad promised that the House would be given briefing on the subject soon.